Men's Soccer | Shapiro sets recruiting sights higher
Youth provides team with talent and new outlook
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 03:10
In sports, inexperience rarely breeds success. Typically it brings frustration and inconsistency instead. The men’s soccer team, however, is far from typical. The Jumbos’ recent recruiting classes have brought athleticism, control and most importantly, success to the team. And they’ve done it within a short time span: 11 underclassmen saw time in a 2−1 loss to MIT on Wednesday. These freshmen and sophomores have rejuvenated a faltering program. In the past two years to date, Tufts has gone a combined 15−7−5, and its success can be attributed to the dynamism of head coach Josh Shapiro’s first two recruiting classes, which entered in the falls of 2011 and 2012.
“When we first inherited the program, I felt we had a general gap to make up talent−wise,” Shapiro said. “We were looking for quality players across the board, and we felt we were not as athletic, and we lacked some pace and speed.”
What Shapiro did to bridge that divide was an impressive feat. A team that had often built its roster partly from walk−ons suddenly began talking to the top players from the top clubs in their regions, partially due to Shapiro’s pedigree as a former assistant coach at Georgetown University.
“We find ourselves recruiting a lot against Division I schools, like Patriot League schools and Ivy League schools, and I think that is a sign of our program moving forward,” Shapiro said. “You win some of those battles, you lose some of those battles, but it’s a good spot to be.” The results on the field last year showcased exactly what Shapiro and his staff are trying to accomplish.
On the defensive end, center backs Peter Lee−Kramer and Sam Williams, both current sophomores, played key roles in shutting down opponents. Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the Jumbos allowed 46 fewer shots on goal, and cut their goals allowed margin from 18 to 15.
Sophomores Michael Miele and Kyle Volpe also proved to be heady midfielders who could control the ball and push the pace of a team excited by its newfound athleticism and finesse.
The centerpieces of the class, however, are perhaps the best representatives of Shapiro’s recruiting efforts. Sophomore forwards Maxime Hoppenot and Gus Santos arrived last fall to provide a speedy one−two punch up top that the Jumbos and opponents alike have not seen in recent years.
In 2011, Hoppenot netted six goals, good for second on the team, while Santos led the Jumbos with seven goals. In the process, Santos became the first Tufts player named to an all−conference team since 2008, and received the nod for NESCAC Rookie of the Year.
Santos said that he could feel the energy changing as the Jumbos restructured to fit the skills of his recruiting class.
“When I looked at the players coming in with me, I could tell Josh [Shapiro] was going in a different direction,” Santos said. “We had heavily recruited guys, and that change was shown in our record.”
The infusion of a talented and athletic core of players turned Tufts from a team that squeaked into the NESCAC tournament with 3−4−2 conference record to a team that finished 5−3−2, and found itself firmly entrenched in fifth place in the conference.
However, Shapiro was not finished with his program makeover. After laying the groundwork in 2011 with athleticism and depth, he saw the 2012 recruiting class as an opportunity to build upon that foundation.
In his effort to bring in the best players he could find, Shapiro did not shy away from going after players that, a few years ago, might not have considered Tufts a viable option.
“Jason Kayne, Conner Schaible, and Rui [Pinheiro] are examples of guys that are definitely Division I capable guys, but maybe lack a little bit of athleticism, and that’s why they’re not there,” Shapiro said. “This class has raised our soccer acumen as a team, and made us a better soccer playing team.”
Santos agrees that the incoming class has had a very tangible impact on the team as a whole.
“They might not be as fast as our [sophomore] recruiting class, but they’re more soccer players. They’re smart in the way they play,” Santos said. “Coach brought in a lot of kids who know how to handle the midfield well, and sought to control the game more with this class, whereas our class is more about pace and attacking.”
The combination of the sophomore class’ explosiveness and the freshman’s skill has made for a deadly pairing.
“We complement each other,” freshman defender Schaible said. “Where the differences are, we definitely work well together.”
But despite the bounty of youth on the squad, things have been rocky lately, with the team especially struggling to convert scoring chances into goals. On Wednesday night, when Tufts dropped its second straight game, falling in the final minutes to the Engineers.
Tufts executed its game plan of controlling the midfield and pushing the ball up to Hoppenot and Santos, but despite taking 13 shots its efforts resulted in just one goal, a Santos strike in the seventh minute. A couple of tough saves by MIT keepers Samuel Cannon and Jake Amareno, along with several unlucky shots that banged off the crossbar, did not help their case, as the Jumbos continued their bad habit of not banging home scoring chances.
The recent struggles may be indicative of the team’s lack of experience, as players who have spent more time on the field have a greater chance to develop the killer instinct necessary to take advantage of scoring chances. However, according to Shapiro, the focus on youth is part of the staff’s long−term strategy to develop the team’s attacking philosophy.